NEW YORK — Google and other automakers may be hard at work on self-driving cars, but to say that Americans have mixed feelings about the prospect of giving up the steering wheel may be putting it mildly.
Technology related to vehicle autonomy is being developed by virtually all major automakers, including Audi, BMW, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla and Volvo. Even non-automotive companies have gotten into the act, with Google testing a fleet of self-driving cars and Apple reportedly working on a prototype.
As development continues, we're nudging closer to self-driving cars with such advanced features as adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, autonomous braking, blind-spot warning and active parking assist.
When asked about the benefits of self-driving cars, 24 percent of the poll's respondents think they'll be the "designated drivers of the future."
Those are some of the results of an online survey by Harris Interactive of 2,276 U.S. adults from the Millennial generation (18-37 year-olds), Generation-X (38-49), Baby Boomers (50-68) and Matures (69 and over).
It's probably not surprising that the younger respondents tend to look more favorably on the technology than the older groups. Of the Millennials, 23 percent say they'll get a self-driving car "once the bugs have been worked out," compared to 15 percent of the Gen-Xers, 13 percent of Baby Boomers and 13 percent of the Mature group.
When asked what other benefits they see arising from the rapidly advancing technology, 30 percent of respondents cite improved fuel economy, 21 percent say they're looking forward to more leisure time and 18 percent are hoping to be more productive. However, 25 percent say they don't see any benefits at all to self-driving cars.
When it comes to the downside, a full 80 percent of those surveyed say they're concerned about computer glitches. Another 69 percent are worried that service costs will increase and 45 percent think insurance rates may go up. Just 7 percent don't see any drawbacks to autonomous vehicles.
Safety is an issue that comes up repeatedly in discussions of self-driving cars, and the Harris respondents had strong opinions about it.
Overall, 48 percent believe these vehicles would be very or somewhat safe for those inside them; 43 percent thought the same for other nearby drivers; and 39 percent for pedestrians in the area. On the other hand, 52 percent of respondents think autonomous cars will be very or somewhat dangerous for those inside; 57 percent echo that feeling for other drivers in the area; and 61 percent think they'd be a danger to pedestrians.
And, once again, the safety of these vehicles was seen more favorably by those in the younger age groups.
Edmunds says: There's more confusion than consensus about self-driving cars at this point.